Some people, it seems, are more loyal than the king.
Sangram Mohapatra, a land officer with state-run Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation of Odisha (IDCO), has kicked up a storm and drawn widespread condemnation for taking law into his hand during Odisha’s land acquisition drive for Korean steel maker Posco’s $12 billion (Rs 54,000 crore) plant in Gobindpur village of Jagasinghpur district, about 200 kilometres east of Bhubaneswar.
In the video-grabs obtained by HT, Mohapatra was seen mercilessly beating villagers opposing Posco’s plant with a long stick on February 3 (Sunday), when the district administration resumed its land acquisition in the wee hours of morning, in full view of district official and police. In his enthusiasm to clear protesters comprising children, women and old people, the officer, dressed in a red sweater over a white shirt, was also seen dragging small children from the demonstration site and moving from one place to another carrying the stick .
Mohapatra has been deputed by IDCO to coordinate with district administration for the land acquisition work.
“By beating peaceful protesters without having police or magistrate power, the IDCO officer has proved himself to be an agent of Posco,” said Prasant Paikray, spokesperson, Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), which is spearheading the movement against Posco’s 12 million tonne per annum green field project.
Odisha Congress president Niranjan Patnaik said: “We condemn the highhandedness shown by the officer. We will keep a close watch on the action taken by the state government against the officer.”
State BJP chief Jual Oram said if the government officials took law into their hands to crush peaceful protests, it would be disastrous for the democracy. “Strong action should be taken against officers and police taking law into their hands,” Oram said.
Odisha health minister and senior Biju Janata Dal leader Damodar Rout, who represents the district in the assembly, also condemned Mohapatra’s action. “This is condemnable,” he said.
Jagatsinghpur collector SK Mallick admitted of hearing allegations against Mohapatra. “I have brought it to the knowledge of the government. I have also talked to superintendent of police Satyabrata Bhoi and appropriate action will be taken in this regard,” Mallick old the Hindustan Times.
Posco, world’s fourth largest steel producer, signed an MoU with the Odisha government in June 2005 to set up its project, touted as India’s single larges foreign direct investment. Initially, 4004 acres of land, out of which 3000 forestland, were needed for the project. But recently it was reduced to 2700 acres.
The state government has already acquired about 2000 acres for Posco, but suspended land acquisition in June 2011 in the face of stiff opposition from villagers. More than 20,000 people of eight villages under Dhinkia, Nuagaon and Gadakujanga pram panchayats have been opposing the plan under the leadership of PPSS.